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Petition Circulates As Bond Vote Draws Near

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On Tuesday, residents of the Tea Area School District will be voting on a $10.5 million bond that would pay for an expansion of the school district. But as the vote gets closer, a controversial petition has started circling to dissolve the district.

You could say the Tea Area School District is feeling some growing pains. But while growing is good, for the district, it’s becoming more controversial.
Jolene Loetscher is a resident of the Westwood Valley neighborhood.  Even though she doesn't have children, Loetscher sees the need for the district to expand.

“This is the best thing for our neighborhood, and for all the kids in the Tea Area School District, for all of the kids in Sioux Falls, this is the best thing,” Loetscher said.

But there's an issue that lies with this land, where the district is proposing to build a new elementary school.

In September, an $11 million bond that would help build the new school, and add other expansions to the district failed by just 31 votes.  Four weeks later, the Tea School Board approved a new $10.5 million bond. But with the new bond came a petition and it’s who is backing the petition that's raising some red flags.
“We know that there are land developers that have financial affiliation and those who vocally oppose this school who have financial connections and family connections to Westwood Valley,” Loetscher explained.
One of those people is Chad Zortman. Zortman's wife is related to Rick Dunlap, a developer who owns the land surrounding where the school will be built. Loetscher said Dunlap has said in the past, that he wants to sell the land to the Sioux Falls School District, but it lies in the Tea Area School District.  If the district were to dissolve, Loetscher said Dunlap would be able to sell the land.
But Zortman said that's not why he's backing the petition.

Zortman said, "I'm not doing this for financial gain. I am doing this because I want to become a part of the Sioux Falls School District."

Zortman said he believes if this second bond were to fail as well, the district will keep pursuing bonds to get the school built. He said district leaders should focus on the current needs of existing buildings, especially the elementary school, where kids are in temporary buildings.

 "I feel bad for those kids, but you know what, take care of those kids first, then look at build a school up here OK," Zortman said.

Loetscher said the only controversial topic of the bond should be what's best for kids.

"This isn't about finances, this is about helping kids and our future," Loetscher said.

We tried to contact Rick Dunlap, but none of our phone calls have been returned.

Fifteen percent of the registered voters in the school district need to sign the petition in order for it to be put to a public vote.
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